Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Lieberman's Absurd Miranda Workaround

Here we go again. Another terror arrest, another round of trumped-up hand-wringing from the right about having to "read rights to terrorists." Once again, it seems this "rights = soft on terror" concern is much more theoretical than practical, because the Times Square Rube Goldberg Smoking Car Bomber is talking.

Never mind all that, says Joe Lieberman: we need to strip homegrown terrorists of their citizenship. If we can do that, then we don't have to worry about all these rights, and we can do anything we want to these jerks:
“I’m now putting together legislation to amend that to [specify that] any individual American citizen who is found to be involved in a foreign terrorist organization, as defined by the Department of State, would be deprived of their citizenship rights,” Lieberman said Tuesday.

This would be a clever answer to the Miranda "problem," if indeed (1) there were a problem, (2) this approach resolved the problem, and (3) it were clever. But Lieberman's whacked-out law doesn't meet any of these three conditions. Here's why:

We don't always know if a person is innocent or guilty.

The rights and protections we extend to criminal suspects and defendants are designed, among other reasons, to ensure that the state doesn't manufacture guilt. Folks in America don't disappear into black holes of detention — without access to attorneys, under conditions that allow law enforcement to extract forced confessions — not because we think criminals deserve kid-glove treatment, but because it would really suck to have that happen to you, if you weren't a criminal.

So let's imagine life in Joe Lieberman's World. You're sitting on a plane, on the tarmac at JFK. You're looking forward to your vacation. Tray tables are up, you've switched off your cell phone, and suddenly federal agents storm into coach and carry you off. They're thinking you tried to blow up a car in Times Square. Well, there's obviously some mistake; a quick call to your attorney will help clear all this up, except someone just declared that you're "involved in a foreign terrorist organization." No lawyer, then. You're back out on the tarmac now, but it's a military transport plane, and you're heading to Bagram, and not Barcelona.

How could this have happened? you ask. Well, it's frighteningly simple. You've been accused of terrorism. Terrorism is an awful, awful crime — so awful, in fact, that just being accused of it is enough to see you stripped you of your citizenship and all the rights that flow from that. Even if the rights bear importantly on the question whether you're a terrorist at all.

Ick. Nice one, Joe.

Of course, that's not the case here at all. Faisal Shahzad has freely confessed his guilt already. We know he tried to kill dozens, if not hundreds of innocent people, over some unspecified grievance that may have something to do with frickin' South Park. So yes, even this purported bleeding-heart liberal correspondent actually would love to see this guy beaten, waterboarded, and humiliated in public (Times Square seems an appropriate forum). And what the heck, when we're done with him, let's strip the guy of his American citizenship. I'm all for that. Screw Faisal Shahzad.

But do we have to strip folks of their citizenship before we know whether they're guilty of terrorism — for the express purpose of facilitating a finding that they're guilty of terrorism? That's the worst kind of legal bootstrapping. It's beneath America. Hell, it's even beneath Glenn Beck. It's just not beneath Senator Lieberman.

Joe, you, too, have the right to remain silent, and we well and truly wish you'd exercise that right a little more often.

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